Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Did Cuddyer's knee diminish his power?

The Twins announced this week that a handful of players, including Michael Cuddyer, will have some offseason surgery to combat the lingering injuries. Reports Star Tribune’s La Velle E. Neal:
Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer said he will need surgery to clean out his right knee, which has been bothering him since the beginning of the season. 
"I need my right knee scoped," Cuddyer said Monday. "I wasn't that affected by it as far as playing."
I am not so certain that last part is true.

Like most hard-nose players who ooze machismo all over the clubhouse, Cuddyer’s quote is an attempt at downplaying the injury and the potential it could have had on his overall game. If the knee was enough of an irritant to incite him to say it was bothering him all season, it probably had some influence over his playing. The announcement that the Twins mainstay would require surgery on his right knee might also help explain some of the diminished power and a damaging trend of hitting more grounders as the season progressed.

When Cuddyer amassed 32 bombs in ‘09, he did so in dramatic tape measure fashion. According to, the right fielder averaged 412 feet per shot in true distance while the rest of the American League was averaging 396 feet on their home runs. While some of this distance might be attributed to hitting in the favorable atmospheric bubble of the Metrodome, Cuddyer also jacked 14 of his 32 home runs away from the climate-controlled park, an indication that he had effective power everywhere.

Given not just the total but the magnitude of the distance on his shots, expectations that Cuddyer could match his 2009 contributions seemed like a fair bet.

This year, however, not only did he hit 18 fewer home runs in 25 additional plate appearances between the two seasons, Cuddyer’s distance shrank considerable in those homers as well. His average true distance decreased to 396.4, just slightly better than the rest of the league (395.7). While Target Field’s conditions certainly may have been a factor in his decline in home runs at home as well as his diminished frequent flier mileage, his decrease in home runs on the road -- both in totals and distance -- suggest a more likely correlation with an injury. 

Then there is the case of his groundball totals increasing throughout the season. My initial diagnosis last month was that Cuddyer was rushing through his swing, often fooled by sliders and offspeed pitches and turning over on those by being out in front. While he was still rushing through is swing - more so than last year - with this revelation, it appears that there is a chance the injured knee may have been culprit rather than Cuddyer’s eagerness. With an injured right knee, the one that a right-handed hitter uses to drive off of, there may have been discomfort in his mechanics, which would cause the hitter to prematurely shift his balance off of his back leg sooner to alleviate the discomfort. 

Regardless of his statistical contributions are perceived, knowing that Cuddyer persevered and played through ailments such as his knee, just when the Twins needed him the most, seems to validate some aspect of his team MVP argument. No, he didn’t get many key hits, as his WPA was beyond the pale (-1.52), and he was utterly overmatched defensively at first base, acting as a sieve whenever a short hop was thrown in his direction. Still, Cuddyer was able to maintain some semblance of order by remaining in the lineup instead of having Jose Morales, Brendan Harris or the likes fill in at first. To some manager’s, that might be enough to consider your player a downright superstar.

Because the Twins are already on the hook for his rather overpriced $10.5 million in 2011, the organization needs to hope that the minor procedure of “cleaning up” his knee will help resurrect his power potential.


As a reminder, when you are finished here, head over to and purchase your pre-sale copy of the TwinsCentric Offseason Handbook 2010-2011. Heading into my Billy Mays mode, if you act now, you can buy the Handbook for $4.95 now instead of the $9.95 full-price that all of the Johnny-Come-Latelys will pay.